When I was ten I went to a Christian summer camp called Camp Calumet. We stayed in cabins with our counselors and a dozen other kids.
By a stroke of luck my best friend Ryan and I ended up in the cabin with the cool counselors. I don't remember either of their names, or even what they looked like, but I remember that one of them had a sticker on his guitar case that asked, "Y B Normal?"
It was a cheesy sticker, of course, but as an impressionable kid it made me think. My counselor was probably the coolest guy I knew at the time, so I instantly equated being not normal with being cool.
So I decided to get my hair braided. This wasn't necessarily the most original thing to do; Kriss Kross was popular at the time and at least one of its members had his hair braided. I was a huge fan. But amongst the kids at the camp, this was a very weird thing to do.
During our free time we all hung out at a set of boat docks sitting in the middle of the woods. They were there for storage, but were arranged in a square which made them a very convenient place to sit around and chat.
"Does anyone have elastics for their braces?"
A few of the girls did, and one of them offered me a few packs of fluorescent ones. I don't have to tell you how cool fluorescent things were back in those days.
"Does anyone know how to braid?"
Before I knew it, I was sitting like the king of the docks with three girls crouched around me, braiding my hair. It took them four hours.
The braids were an instant hit. Everyone loved them. A friend of a friend pulled me aside and said very solemnly, "You are really cool. Would you mind if I got my hair braided too?"
Two of the three girls who braided my hair asked me out. I happily acquiesced to one, who is the girl I would consider my first girlfriend, although we never did so much as kiss. Now she's on the Vermont house of representatives.
And so my first experience being weird wasn't met with the ridicule most people experience. Instead, thanks to blind luck, I became the most popular kid at camp and was launched forward in life with the understanding that doing unusual things would make my life better.
Sixteen and a half years later I'm sitting on a train somewhere in Japan. It's dead silent other than the clicks from my keyboard - we're stopped at a station for some reason I might comprehend if my Japanese was better. Maybe we're ahead of schedule.
The few other passengers on the train are sleeping. I've turned the seats in front of us around to use as a footrest so that I can be comfortable while I write a story about my life that random people around the world will later read.
Nine hours and five transfers later my friend Todd and I will be in a small town called Bando in the Japanese prefecture of Shikoku. We'll arrive at the first of 88 temples in a historic 993 mile pilgrimage around Shikoku. I have no idea how far away the second one is, but we're going to walk to it. If it's close we'll walk to the second one too. When it's night time we'll sleep on the ground next to the trail. Few people do that anymore, apparently, but it's the traditional way to make the pilgrimage.
Once in a while, especially at times like these, I think about how incredibly fortunate I am to have this life. While most people are at work I get to be in the middle of nowhere in Japan, having a great adventure.
Some of it is luck. I've had the unmistakable good fortune of having an amazing family and group of friends. I was born and with good health and a high enough IQ.
Besides luck, though, a lot of what has lead me here is my near total lack of faith that most people are doing the best thing. When I see other people doing something I ask why, rather than assume that it's the best way to do things.
As a result almost everything in my life is abnormal. I dress differently, I eat differently, I do different things for fun and for work, and I don't even live anywhere anymore. At the risk of sounding like an Apple ad, I think differently.
There are massive benefits to living differently. It makes you think about things rather than going through life like a sheep. You feel proud about your life because it's something you have built, rather than something that you were shoehorned into. You can't help but be constantly happy because you are doing what you want to be doing, not what you're told you want to be doing.
People sometimes tell me that they'd like to break free of the mold a little more, but are scared or have some weird excuse why it wouldn't work for them.
To me it's the opposite - the prospect of living a normal life is the most terrifying thing in the world to me. It's a paradox because I feel like I can do anything, but I honestly don't think I could live a normal life. I can't even imagine what I would do if I was faced with the challenge.
At the same time, there are some downsides to being unusual. The main one is that the world isn't built for you. In Tokyo, the largest metropolitan area in the world, there are no restaurants where I can eat everything on the menu. The huge entertainment districts of every city have nothing that interests me. I'm not complaining, I mention it because I think it's interesting.
Why be normal? I have no idea. I guess because it's easy and convenient. The world is an amazing place, though. It's spectacular. As I see more of it (I've covered .01% of it so far), learn about it, and think more about it, I become happier and happier and more and more honored to be a part of it.
But here's the thing - 99% of the world and the experiences available in it are off the beaten path. To get to them you have to get off the path too.
OMG, I just had to comment because I went to Camp Calumet, too. I've never known anyone else that has been there after our family moved away from New England. We may very well have been at the same time, though you are a few years younger than me, I went for four years....my favorite thing to do was sailing...and I remember one of my couselors (don't remember her name either) had her hair braided in corn rows! lol, I bet you inspired her! I also remember bug juice in the chow hall, all those cheesy songs they sang, snack time, and making my own ring in the plastics shop. Thanks for the trip down memory lane :)
This post resonated with me man. The prospect of being a normal 9-5 person terrifies me too and I also experience the weird world where most of the world isn't designed around my interests.
Thanks man, while I read this blog, I felt like I was looking into a mirror (cheesy but it's true)
@AJ There is fake documentary called "<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0464907/"The Boys & Girls Guide to Getting Down" which is based in the Hollywood club scene. Pretty funny stuff.
This post resonated with me quite a bit. I consider it one of the most important lessons I've learned over the countless number of experiences in my life: trust your own judgement. I can't count the number of times I've listened to someone else's advice over my own and ended up regretting it. If my own advice is genuinely better, well done me. If it's worse, then I find a surprising amount of comfort in the fact that I'm the only one accountable. Life ends up much less frustrating that way.
I'm honestly of the opinion that most people don't even know what's best for themselves, let alone what's best for me. Popular opinion is the reason why human history is so peppered with unbelievable acts of large scale stupidity. Why should anyone choose to adhere to that? Independent thought is too precious a gift to leave by the wayside, something a worrying number of people do without a moment's realisation.
It's great what are you doing, but the most amazing part is that you share with everybody what you do, feel and think.
This particular line was great for me too: "You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help but be constantly happy because you are doing what you want to be doing, not what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re told you want to be doing."
It comes to be that recently (last week) I decided to drop out of college. That's something I wanted to do for so long, and the only reason why I was still there was that "it was something expected from me" ... B.S. - and I'm not talking about college degrees here. ;)
Since I dropped out, I've been invaded by a feeling of freedom and a sense of clarity for I know that I can DECIDE how to go about whatever comes my way now. What I like the most about all this is that, right now, I can only imagine how it will feel like when I quit my day job, which is next on my priority list.
So thanks for this great post!
"It makes you think about things rather than going through life like a sheep...You canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help but be constantly happy because you are doing what you want to be doing, not what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re told you want to be doing."
AH, thanks for the inspiration! I've been wanting to do some interesting yet crazy things for a while (Get rid of all of my bedroom furniture and replace it with recycled goods, bike across America...), but no one's ever really supported my ideas, so I was beginning to think that perhaps there is no merit in my [future] ventures. I suppose there is, thought, as I know they'd make me happy.
I'm now 24 and only beginning to realise how strange a thing 'society' can be. Why has no one made a documentary on daily human behaviours like they do for the animal world? David Attenborough style! I think that would be pretty funny. That said, I'm very much in the mix myself, with my daily routine and salary job. Occasionally I unplug my mind and thoughts though by reading blogs such as yours.
Imagine catching the train every morning in London and seeing a number of people either half asleep or reading yet another horror story in the newspaper. For most of the daily toils I see I often think "there's got to be a better way than this!?".
In short, thanks for that article. It's an inspiration!
One of your best post the last couple of years! I have a very different life than you in most aspects but share many things as well, especially the idea of questioning why people do what they do and what is expected of you. I've traveled a lot the last 12 year and have seen people live in every possible way, from palace to caves. This is a huge gift and changes the way I relate to... everything!
I'll see if I'm anywhere near you when you get to Europe, it would be cool to meet. And if you're planning on hitting the northern parts (Sweden, Norway) or Barcelona I have plenty of places for you to stay.
I dropped out of school during my sophomore year of college. I was a little bit scared to do it, but I followed through because I was certain that I didn't want to get a normal job or do anything else that would make use of a degree. Dropping out was one of the best decisions I've made, and it pushed me towards the life that I really wanted to live.
However, just because dropping out was right for me doesn't mean that it's right for everyone, or for you. I think that the school system is trending towards obsolescence and is a far worse value proposition that it was in previous eras, but that doesn't mean that it's worthless or that it's not the right choice for a lot of people. You might be surprised to find out that when people email me to ask if they should drop out, I tell many of them that I think they should stay in school.
When I talk about dropping out of school, by the way, I mean dropping out of college. Unless you are home schooled or have a very good plan for learning useful life and social skills, I think that at least completing high school is a good idea. I also think that taking some college is a good idea for many people. Going for a semester is a fairly small investment of time to figure out if it's a good fit for you, and you can also completely disregard course guidelines and take interesting things like Chinese and scuba diving.
If you're in high school or entering college, the most important thing you should realize is that you alone are responsible for your education and your life, and that you should use the next four years in the best way possible. Forget about labels like graduate and dropout, and focus on what is best going to prepare you for the life that you want to have.
I hear people talk about luck a lot. Straightup - luck doesn't exist.
If you believe in luck, then you believe either: (1) some people consistently defy probability, or, (2) some things aren't a result of cause and effect.
Life is a series of probability. Every day, there's a chance that a given set of things will happen. If you want to have a successful life, expose yourself to as much high-upside low-downside probability as you can. Any given thing you do might not work out, but if you expose yourself to high-upside low-downside, good things will happen. Read books, reach out to people, try to get projects working, keep trying to write and build things, keep learning new skills, keep treating people well.
If you want to fail at life, expose yourself to high-downside no-upside probability. This is short term gain at long term expense type stuff. Cigarettes. Unsecured debt for consumption. Most TV.
You'll keep getting "lucky" if you keep exposing yourself to things with upside and limited downside. If you get an amazing job or contract that you had a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting, were you lucky? No, especially not if you applied and pitched 1,000 other places. If you say, "Ok, I'm going to keep trying to get what I want until I do" you'll get it, as long as it's a positive sum game you're playing.